THEME: THE GOSPEL IS NOT FOR SALE
READINGS: Amos 7:12-15/ Ephesians 1:3-14/ Mark 6:7-13
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The prophet Amos declared that prophecy was his vocation but not his profession. By profession, he was a shepherd and a farmer, but then God called him to prophesy to Israel (Amos 7:12-15). Thus, unlike some “prophets” of our time, Amos did not become a prophet in order to amass wealth.
Similarly, the Apostles whom the Lord Jesus sent to preach the Gospel saw their mission or ministry as a vocation, and not a profession by which to amass wealth. They understood very well that the Gospel is not for sale.
Indeed, most of the Apostles had to sacrifice their profession in order to whole-heartedly embrace the call of the Lord. For instance, St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. James and St. John sacrificed their fishing business, in order to become “fishers of men”. St. Matthew, likewise, gave up his very lucrative tax collecting business.
These Apostles understood and practised the instruction of Jesus: “freely you have received, freely you must give” (Matt. 10:8). In other words, they did lived by the principle that the Gospel is not for sale. Hence, they in no way took advantage of their ministry of preaching and healing to amass wealth. St. Peter, for instance, did not expand his fishing industry through his powerful ministry of preaching and healing. Similarly, St. Paul did not expand his tent-making business through his amazing ministry of preaching and healing.
Despite their tireless efforts in preaching and healing from town to town and country to country, St. Peter, St. Paul and the other apostles remained economically poor “for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God”. Judas, the only exception, who did not understand that the Gospel is not for sale, killed himself before the risen Jesus gave His Apostles the great commission to “go out and preach the Gospel to all nations”.
St. Peter, St. Paul and the others discharged the mission entrusted to them in accordance with the instructions of their Master and Lord Jesus: “take nothing for [the] journey … no bread, no bag, no money” (Mark 6:8). Today, however, the situation seems to be different, for many ministers of the Gospel have been affected by the Judas Deficiency Syndrome (JDS). Today, though many pastors and evangelists begin their ministerial journey with “no bread, no bag, no money” except a Bible, they end up with several houses, a fleet of cars, businesses and huge bank accounts.
Whereas our Lord Jesus says that, “seek you first the Kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto it” (Matt. 6:33), ministers of the Gospel affected by JDS practice the worldly principle: “seek first wealth and other worldly things, hopefully the Lord will credit you with righteousness and the Kingdom”.
Some pastors, for instance, demand consultation fee; they charge varying fees for their prayers depending on the “degree” of the requests; and often the focus of their message is money. These hardly remember the instruction of Jesus: “freely you have received, so freely you must give.”
It is true that Jesus instructed His disciples to stay in whatever house they were welcomed and to eat and drink whatever that was set before them, for the labourer deserves his wage (Luke 10:5-7). But, to stay in a house as a guest does not mean to take over the house. Again, to eat whatever that is set before a guest does not mean to dictate the food to be given.
However, when, in the name of the Gospel, pastors amass wealth at the expense of church members, especially their poor members, they are literally taking over their houses and dictating the food acceptable to them. Such pastors could be likened to those shepherds of Israel who fed on their flock instead of feeding them:
the word of the Lord came to me [Ezekiel], saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken” (Ezekiel 34:1-4).
Whereas, on the one hand, such pastors are to blame; on the other hand, gullible Christians are to blame. Some Christians whose income or wealth has been milked by such ministers would still passionately defend their pastors. Could this not be likened to the passion that fans have for their sports idols and other celebrities who are becoming richer at their expense?
The Gospel is not for sale; and so the Lord is reminding His ministers that freely they have received the mandate to preach and heal, and so freely they must minister to His people. For church members, the Lord’s message is that you should remind your ministers affected by JDS that Judas’ end was miserable and terrible, and so they should rather “seek … first the Kingdom of heaven and its righteousness”.
Finally, to all Christians, Jesus is our only spiritual celebrity. No pastor or evangelist should replace Him; for only in Jesus has God blessed us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Let us, therefore, in no way adore any pastor, but Jesus, and through Him, adore the Father and the Holy Spirit! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis